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A Tale of Two Classes

09-Dec-2005

 
 (Warning:  Extra long post!)
 
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, I took two classes at Sur La Table.  Both were taught by local "celebrity chefs" but that is about where the similarities ended! And what makes this contrast even more amazing is that these two chefs are good friends and partners in some endeavors! 
 
The first night the instructor was Tom Douglas, recently of Iron Chef fame, but most well known for his four local restaurants, line of rubs and marinades and two cookbooks.  Tom is a self-made chef, who came by his training by starting early, working in kitchens, watching, listening and experimenting.  Tom’s style is as loose and casual as his looks would imply!
 
The second night the instructor was Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s fame.  Thierry has recently released his first cookbook.  If you live in the Seattle area you may know him as "the chef in the hat", his trademark.  Thierry was born and raised in France, is classically trained and worked his way through many French restaurant kitchens prior to moving to Seattle.  His style is much more formal and controlled, as might be expected. 
 
Where the two men come together is in their creative and focused use of fresh, premium, mostly local ingredients, ever changing menus based on the season, and their attention to detail and quality.  And they are both big believers in participating in community.  Their generosity in supporting causes and benefits; contributing time, labor and ingredients is outstanding.  I know that Tom has been involved with Taste the Nation since the beginning and I believe Thierry has been for many years, if not from the beginning.  Thierry played judge for our "Iron Chef" competition back in April.  (You can see me feeding him in one photo!)  I first sampled both men’s culinary delights at various benefits around town.  I have much respect for both men for their craft, their recognition of the staff members who help make them successful and their contributions to the community in general. 
 
So, as you can probably imagine, the classes while having common elements (beautiful ingredients, focus on quality), were as different as night and day! 
 
Tom’s class was loose and free flowing.  He had brought us copies of his cookbook and instead of handing out copies of the recipes he referred us to the chapter in the book where the recipes would be found.  We made the dinner titled, "Christmas with the Dows", from "Tom’s Big Dinners".  Sur la Table has quit serving wine at their classes but Tom represents Columbia Crest Winery, and had brought several varieties of their wine to serve along with various courses. 
 
We started with Penn Cove Oysters on the Half Shell.  After a shucking lesson, Tom topped them with a dollop of creme fraiche and a generous spoonful of American caviar.  Then, as some of the courses took some time to prepare, Tom  jumped ahead to what really should have been a later course – Fig Brioche with Cheese – he wanted to make sure we didn’t get too hungry while waiting for the "proper" course. I loved the brioche!  Next up a winter salad of Apple, Radicchio and Maple Molasses Pecans.  Those pecans were very tasty. 
 
The next course served would usually be the appetizer.  Tom joked that it was the only recipe in the cookbook without a photo as there’s just no way to really make Oeufs en Meurette on Rustic Bread look pretty! The eggs are poached in red wine and, although very tasty, sort of resemble raw liver! The entrée was a plate of Roast Duck with Riesling, Black Pepper and Thyme; King Boletus Stuffing; and Brown Butter Kale.  The stuffing was cooked in a casserole in a shallow layer so that the top gets crusty and crispy while the interior stays soft and moist.  I loved the crispy top layer! 
 
Throughout the meal Tom joked, cooked from memory and often strayed from the published recipe, generally catching himself and joking that he should have read the recipe before starting to cook.  The class and meal stretched about 30 minutes past the scheduled time but no one minded.  After class, Tom signed all the cookbooks and took a few minutes to talk with everyone.  You can tell he likes what he does and a big part of that is the interaction with his customers. 
 

 
 
                
 
On Thursday I was on a bit of a schedule and I was going to have to leave class about 30 minutes prior to the official end time. I hoped that would give me enough time to get through most of the recipes and get a good dose of Thierry Rautureau’s style of cooking and presentation. 
 
From the beginning of the class we were on a different journey than on the night before.  Upon check in we received a packet of recipes, which is the more normal way of these classes.  All recipes can be found in his new cookbook, "Rover’s, Recipes from Seattle’s Chef in the Hat".  This cookbook was quite a process, as normally Thierry does not use recipes.  He and his co-writer, Cynthia Nims, spent many sessions creating and documenting so that the essence of his style could be captured in his book. 
 
Thierry was anxious to get started, although the class coordinator had him wait for a few minutes as traffic had delayed several students.  Once he was given the green light he was off and running.  Thierry also has a great sense of humor and joked throughout the class.  However, he is much more contained than Tom is. His movements are efficient, studied, resulting in perfect results.  Thierry’s cuisine, while heavily influenced by the local Northwest abundance, relies on classic French techniques.  So at the beginning of class we started on stock, and sauces and reductions that would be used throughout the meal. 
 
At several points throughout the class, he made the comment that his recipes were simple but not necessarily easy, meaning that although they would take some time, the actual methods can be handled by many.  And he talked about how, if you follow a recipe step by step from beginning to end, they could take hours – to make stocks, etc.  But if you make stock as you have the chance, then freeze it for later use and then pull it out when you need it the actual time to create his recipes would be much less.  Still, some planning is required! He also talked about how you could easily eliminate certain parts of a dish and still have a perfectly fine offering.  For instance, the dessert for the night could easily be limited to just the panna cotta or just the sorbet.  He would put them together into one magnificent presentation (my words not his) but it’s not necessary to do so.   
 
The menu for the evening was Martini of Spot Prawns with Cucumber, Caviar and Vodka; Roasted Pheasant with Brussels Sprouts and Roasted Garlic Sauce; Orange Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Sorbet and Tuile Cookie. 
 
Thierry started with the parts of the meal that took longest, much as you would do for a meal in your own home, and then worked his way forward.  So I got to see him make the dessert; prepare, truss and roast the pheasant; and prepare the garnishes for the dishes.  I did not, however, get to actually eat any of it.  I was so disappointed!  When we took our mid-class break I realized that by the time we’d get back from break that I’d have to be leaving for another commitment.  That is why you will not see any pictures of the food, or get any description of it, except that I saw how it was all prepared and I had been drooling the entire time!  But with Thierry’s style each part of a meal is a coordinated piece of the whole and he would have been plating each course as we were enjoying the previous.  Each course would arrive just a few moment after you finished the one prior leaving just enough time to enjoy the experience – just the way it’s done at Rover’s.  And I had really wanted to try the pheasant as it’s been years since I’ve had it.  Dang it! 
 
Oh well, as I told him as I was leaving he’s given me the tools and knowledge to make it all on my own.  Somehow it just won’t be the same though.  You know? 
 
2 Comments
  1. Unknown permalink
    13-Dec-2005 6:43 am

    I\’m glad to see a self-taught chef making it in the post-CIA era of wholesale chefs. OTOH, Thierry reminds me of the old school approach and my hero Chef Pierre Franey. Pierre spent years making sauces and cooking fish before becoming a chef.

  2. Culinary permalink
    14-Dec-2005 12:10 pm

    I really enjoy both of these guys and wish them continued success – which looks like it won\’t be an issue! :-) ~ B

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